Tag Archives: kindle

From Collins to Braddon to Radcliffe to Walpole

I love the way Wikipedia and public domain ebooks have taken surfing to a whole new level. A random thought can lead to a month of reading material. I no longer need to be content with hunting down summaries and snippets, then deciding if a bigger investment is needed. Instead, I can just download whole tomes and read as much or little as my interest merits.

I finally finished The Lady in White last week. It’s been on my to-be-read list for about five years. It took me four years to get the book, then another year to pick it up and read it. This weekend, I read the introduction and all the other related material that came with my spiffy edition. Lo and behold, I had just read my second sensation novel. Who knew there was a literary movement that happened entirely during the 1860s and 1870s in Victorian England? Just take Gothic story elements and put them into what, at the time these books were written, was a contemporary setting. It sounds a bit like the paranormal romance or urban fantasy of its day.

This all led to my next discovery: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, first published in 1862. It’s one of those titles that seems familiar, but I had never placed the book in any context, nor imagined that it was a wild success in its own time, nor thought that it’s the product of a highly prolific author. Braddon apparently wrote 75 novels. She scribbled out 14 of them before the typewriter was even invented.

Then Wikipedia led me to its more elaborate entry for the Gothic fiction. I downloaded two books here. The first is The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe from 1794. This is apparently the quintessential Gothic romance, complete with swooning damsels and never-ending landscape descriptions. The second is The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole which was first published in 1764. This is billed as the book that started Gothic romance. Walpole claimed that the story was a translation of a work by an Italian author, who later turned out to be as fictional as the rest of the book, but it does still make for an amusing–if not quite true–introduction.

It’s this last book that caught my attention for now. It’s amusing, though perhaps not in ways intended. It’s the literary equivalent of bad acting, yet still groundbreaking. All around, it was a great afternoon of not just researching these books, but getting to dive into their full text… a few seconds after discovering them. Collins led to Braddon led to Radcliffe led to Walpole. It might be three years before I finish all these books, if that ever happens, but with paper I’d still be debating which one–if any–I should buy first.

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Thoughts on Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

Do the Work by Steven PressfieldIt’s tough to write about Do the Work by Steven Pressfield without focusing on how the book was published. It’s the second release from the Domino Project, a joint effort between Amazon and Seth Godin. Their first book was Poke the Box by Godin himself, though in Do the Work Godin limits himself to the introduction.

Pressfield is also the author of a slew of successful novels, including Gates of Fire and The Legend of Bagger Vance.  In Do the Work, he revisits the advice from his wonderfully titled War of Art, offering a basic roadmap for tackling creative projects. He focuses on the concept of Resistance–yes, with a capital “R”–and how it can freeze us on the blank page. He writes mostly of writing, but the formula he lays out could equally apply to any entrepreneurial or political endeavor–anything that requires a massive effort to yank a something from the void. The central tenant is that Resistance will show its fangs each step of the way and must be bludgeoned into submission. To do this, we employ the power of stupidity and its other allies. Don’t overthink it. Banish perfectionism from the creative process.

There’s nothing profoundly new here, and the book doesn’t offer as concrete of a plan as it claims. It’s more rough outline, wrapped in a harsh–think drill sergeant–pep talk. It’s also a slim tome. I was able to read it cover to cover on the bus ride to and from work. But I’ll revisit it, once I get stuck and need a firm kick in the butt to get going again. The book reminded me of Unleash the Warrior Within by Richard J. Machowicz, which I strongly suspect Pressfield has read. His references to the Navy SEAL training program seem to have been drawn from Machowicz’s stories. Though this other book goes beyond the pep talk, and offers help with understanding and evaluating priorities.

I picked up the ebook version of Do the Work for free through a sponsorship that the Domino Project received from General Electric. (Only after reading Do the Work did I realize that this is the second book by Pressfield that I’ve read. Gates of Fire, his novel about the battle of Thermopylae in ancient Greece, was much beloved at the bookstore where I once worked.) The ebook was briefly priced at $9.99, but for now at least, is free again. It seems to have been designed with the ebook format in mind. The cover–like the first book from the Domino Project–is a single image with no text, perfect for a postage-stamp sized icon. There are chunks of super-sized text throughout the book. And whole pages dedicated to a single–white on black–word.

There’s also a signed, limited edition hardback that comes with a special metal plate–one with a 16th-century style engraving, no less–that’s available for $65. I love to see the Domino Project experimenting with new formats, taking the book beyond just pixels on a screen or bound paper. I suspect this won’t be the last offering from the Domino Project to land on my Kindle.

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High Quality Is the Future of Paper

The Woman in White by Wilkie CollinsI’ve been reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins for the last few weeks. It’s one of those massive tomes that’s been on my to-be-read list for years. Last Christmas, I got a copy of it in a recently re-released, and super fancy binding. I pulled it off the shelf a couple weeks ago, then got fed up with the tiny text in the paper book and switched to the free Kindle version.

Then I got tired of that, and switched back to the paper book. I went back and forth for a while, but at the halfway point through the book, paper wins. I love this binding, a solid stitch that shows no sign of tearing.  I like the rough feel of this book’s cover in my hands. The book is a bit on the heavy side at almost 700 pages, but has wonderful thick paper. Each page turn matters. I also like the extensive footnotes, and the silk bookmark. All around it’s a much more fitting experience for this 150 year old text.

One other thing: I had no idea that I have a terrible reading habit until after I started reading on Kindle. At the beginning of a chapter, I like to flip ahead to see how long that chapter will be. This works for sections of a book too. The Woman in White is broken into three massive sections, and getting to the end of one is an accomplishment to be much anticipated. This quick flip ahead, and then return to current page, is almost impossible with the Kindle. Books there are one long endless stream of text, which is a bit intimidating when reading a brick like this one. Also Collins, like many of his contemporaries, could be a bit overly verbose in his descriptions. Those sometimes require a quick scan ahead too.

This edition of The Woman in White is  part of the fantastic series of Penguin hardback classics designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. I love these books! They’re the future of paper. Nice, clunky things with solid bindings and creamy paper. Though yes, the text would do well to be a bit bigger.

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Thoughts on Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart

For months, Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart has been hovering near the bottom of the list of the top 100 free Kindle ebooks. It’s a collection of letters from a Wyoming homesteader, dated from when she first arrived on her claim in 1909, through 1913. They’re all addressed to her friend and former employer in Denver, who seems to have seen more in the letters than their author did. Stewart emerges as a big hearted woman, who would most likely be shocked that her letters are achieving such fame a century after she wrote them.

She had no formal training as a writer, but her words–as well as her frequent book references–show that she must have been a voracious reader. She brings the old West to life, but not in the way I would have expected. The people here are wonderful characters, full of life and generous almost to a fault. She describes food so well that all opinions I had previously of bland, canned diets have been vanquished. It seems there was often a cause for a feast. Stewart bountifully describes meals piled high by the side of makeshift campfires, putting today’s fast food standards to shame.

But it’s in her descriptions of the Wyoming landscape where Stewart truly excels. It’s obvious that she fell in love with this land, reveled in all that nature had to offer. The letters are riddled with evocative descriptions:

For a distance our way lay up Henry’s Fork valley; prosperous little ranches dotted the view, ripening grain rustled pleasantly in the warn morning sunshine, and closely cut alfalfa fields made bright spots of emerald against the dun landscape. The quaking aspens were just beginning to turn yellow; everywhere purple asters were a blaze of glory except where the rabbit-bush grew in clumps, waving its feathery plumes of gold. Over it all the sky was so deeply blue, with little, airy, white clouds drifting lazily along. Every breeze brought scents of cedar, pine, and sage. At this point the road wound along the base of the cedar hills; some magpies were holding a noisy caucus among the trees, and high overhead a great black eagle soared.

The letters are often separated by months, and usually detail trips Stewart took to neighboring homesteads. A fiercely independent woman, she made a habit of bundling her young children into a wagon and heading out into the countryside, where she often would need to take an unexpected detour and spend the night camping out.  Lots of elaborate tales of weddings, pot luck dinners, and holiday get-togethers. Her tone is upbeat, if not inspirational, and there is only the slightest hint of all the work that must have happened between such festivities, little more than side references to how much labor was involved with the day-to-day life of a homesteader.

Stewart comes across as downright contemporary. One can only imagine what she would make of the connectivity that modern communications would have allowed the homesteader. Her letters are a real treasure, a wonderful portrayal of life in the not-so-old West.

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28 Cents per Book, Am I Really This Cheap?

It’s been a little over two months since I got my Kindle. The thing about the whole experience that’s amazed me the most is how I haven’t stepped into a physical book store since then. Such a book store drought before would have been unthinkable. My book acquisition demon seems to be satiated by downloading samples. I have nearly a hundred of them on the device now. I’m also rediscovering classics, love that I can access them instantly, for free, and then read as much or as little as I want with no feeling of having to stick with it. And I’m sampling a lot of indie authors too, though admittedly only getting past the sample stage for a select few.

Here’s the list of books I’ve downloaded in full (samples are too numerous to easily list) and what I paid for each. Public domain books were all free.

Paid books:

Public domain books:

I’m averaging a staggering 28 cents a book. (Though if you factor in the cost of the Kindle and case, it comes out to almost $16 per book.) That’s downright embarrassing. I really thought I had spent more money on books, as I seem to be downloading them all the time. I didn’t buy the device so I could get cheap books. I bought it so I could have access to books that otherwise weren’t available. Some of the public domain books, such as those by Mary Johnston and Marietta Holley, are out of print. I love that so much of this esoteric stuff is available instantly, and in full. The fact that it’s free is a bonus.

I also haven’t given up on paper books. I’m still reading them, but focusing on the hundreds of unread books that I have piled up around the house. There is something strangely satisfying about hacking my way through these piles faster than they grow, for the first time ever. I seem to have found a new rhythm of one paper book from the shelf, then one ebook. But if my paper purchases slow down (yes, at some point I’ll go back and buy more) and if I’m averaging a mere pittance per book, how does this bode for publishing? Not well, it seems. Even Amazon can’t be all that excited about a 28 cent average per download. Yes, they got paid for the device, but my hunch is they’re barely breaking even supplying me with downloads.

Does this mean that I’m officially giving myself permission to spend more money on books?

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First Thoughts on My New Kindle

I finally broke down last week, and bought myself a Kindle. I debated for a long time between it and the Kobo reader, but with the problems Borders is facing, ultimately opted to go with the industry big boy. I also was tempted into the ebook world, in part, to see what indie authors have been producing. Almost all of them seem to worship at the altar of Kindle.

Here’s my initial thoughts:

  • Absolute first impression: The screen resolution is amazing. This is more apparent with the pictures that come up when you shut the thing down than text itself, but all of it really does look a lot like paper. I spent a big chunk of this weekend reading on my new toy, and my eyes might even feel less strain (bigger text, after all) than they would from a paper book.
  • The case is essential. I didn’t get it at first, and the thing was just too light, didn’t feel anything like a book. But now that I have the case, it opens like a book and has the right weight to it. Plus, it has a handy little night light that’s great for reading in bed. The leather cover also has a good feel, and smell… yes ebooks can smell nice too.
  • It’s not just a bookstore at my fingertips, but instant access to pretty much every book in print today, plus tons of classics in the public domain (available for free) and new offerings from indie authors. It’ll be interesting to see if I continue my lifelong habit of stockpiling books, or prowl for a new book once I finish (or give up on) the one I’m currently reading.
  • When I first sat down to actually read a book–not to play with the settings–it all felt a bit surreal. I had an immediate urge to put the thing down and go find a real book. This passed, and part of the problem may have been that I didn’t like the first book I tried to read on it. I’m now working my way through The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and not noticing the Kindle. (The House of the Seven Gables is fantastic by the way, and I do occasionally wonder what Mr. Hawthorne would think of having his books available on such a new-fangled gizmo.)

Still, I don’t see me giving up paper books any time soon. Nostalgia aside, I have a ton of them (probably literally) around the house, both books I’ve not read yet and those I’ve read and will want to revisit someday. Though I bet I won’t buy all that many new paper books, not when the ebook variety doesn’t take up space.

Those piles of unread books that stare at me and inflict much guilt… they need trouble me no more.

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Here Cometh Google: Thoughts on Google eBookstore

Google made its long awaited entry into the world of ebooks today, with the launch of Google eBookstore. The program has a number of things that make it unique in the ebook world. Check out Publishers Weekly or Google’s own blog post for the nitty gritty.

Unlike the stores for iPad, Kindle, and Nook, Google eBookstore is not tied to any particular piece of hardware. They’ve made free apps available for Android and the iPhone/iPad. They also support the Adobe eBook platform, which means that their ebooks can be read on Nook and Sony readers. Google eBookstore also supports any Javascript enabled browser. The only real noticeable absence is the Kindle, no big surprise there. Though my hunch is Google also won’t make a Windows Phone 7 app available any time soon.

Other than the basics, here’s my initial impressions of the program:

  • The integration with independent bookstores is awesome. Independents can partner with Google eBookstore to sell ebooks on their own websites. I love this, no more guilt if I find a book in a great independent but then don’t want to go home with it right then. Powell’s has already signed up for the program, and my hunch is that there will soon be a stampede of independents to join them.
  • There is a whole lot of noise about how this program lives in the cloud. You buy the book once and then can sync it across multiple devices (Kindle offers a similar feature through Whispersync). I get why this is cool. It’s difficult. But was there a problem before all the fancy devices came along? Nope. It was simple to open my paper book right where I left off… and it was never much of a hassle to take it with me, especially since then I didn’t have to carry all this other crap (smart phone, tablet, laptop) with me.
  • You can’t get to Google eBookstore from the Google home page. You have to click on “More” in the top navigation, then “Books” and then a link that actually takes you into the eBookstore. Plus, the URL they chose for the program is: books.google.com/ebooks. Overall, kind of buried. It seems they don’t expect customers to treat this store as a destination, but it’s about having Google ebooks surface as people search, or as they shop on partner/independent sites.
  • The merchandising is worse than clunky, like the featured categories at the bottom of the store home page with amateur graphics and no cohesive design elements to pull it all together. Again though, none of it feels like this bookstore is being built as an eye candyish destination.
  • I found 1,537 reviews of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. One of the three editorial reviews at the top of the page is in Chinese, so not a whole lot of help to me. Also, even on the full reviews page, each review is given just two lines. I’m not sure why they don’t show the full text of about 10 reviews per page, and let me scroll through them. Again though, this approach seems to speak more about search, than a shopping destination.
  • The program also boasts “more than three million titles including hundreds of thousands for sale.” That line threw me at first. If there are hundreds of thousands of titles for sale, where does that leave the other 2.7 million titles in the store. Apparently, these are all free. They’re public domain. Of course, every store for ebooks has all the classics available. The question really will be how much of a differentiator will the millions of obscure, public domain titles be. This plays well into a search strategy, where these books will surface. Each one may not pop up often, but presumably when it does it’ll be massively qualified… and free.
  • One of the headlines on the main overview page is: Discover the world’s largest selection of ebooks. Ummmm… is that possibly a swipe at Amazon? Their original tagline was: Earth’s Biggest Bookstore. It also highlights how Amazon has drifted from its original selection, selection, selection mantra to focus on the exclusivity of its platform.

All around, a big new competitor just entered the ebook arena. For a product that just launched, it feels pretty complete. Though understandably the window dressing is still to come.

It’ll be fascinating to see if ultimately the ebook market sticks with the one-stop shop (Kindle or possibly iPad) or if it prefers this multi-faceted approach where the book itself is merchandised and sold by one company, the order for it is fulfilled by another, and the device on which it’s read is manufactured by a third.

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